The Westchester County Center was one of the first three state vaccination sites that opened Jan. 13 as part of the rollout of New York state’s plan for large scale administration of Covid-19 vaccines.
The Westchester Medical Center Network is providing clinical personnel to handle the processing of vaccination recipients. The Pfizer vaccine is being administered.
The other mass vaccination sites that were opened on the 13th were the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan and the New York State Fair Expo Center in Syracuse. A state site at Jones Beach was scheduled to open on the 14th and one at SUNY Albany on the 15th.
Those were to be followed shortly by at least a dozen more throughout the state. In addition, vaccinations are being made available through pharmacies, doctors offices, hospitals, health care centers and similar facilities.
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos, who has been involved in setting up state-operated Covid-19 testing sites and has been working on the vaccination effort was at the County Center for a media briefing in which the Business Journal participated. Westchester County Operations Director Joan McDonald represented County Executive George Latimer.
“Make no mistake: this is the largest government operation in our lifetimes,” Seggos said. “These sites are the light at the end of the tunnel.” He said it was a smooth opening with from 200 to 250 people vaccinated in the first two hours the County Center was in operation.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers converted the County Center and its adjacent parking lot into emergency hospital facilities last spring as the pandemic’s impact was becoming increasingly dramatic and there were fears that hospital capacity would be exceeded.
A contract for $15 million was awarded to Haughland Energy Corp. LLC of Melville in March to create 54 patient care units inside of the center and erect temporary structures in the parking lot to house 56 patients. The feared hospital overload in Westchester did not materialize and the County Center facilities went unused.
The County Center opened on May 22, 1930, and has hosted myriad events such as basketball, boxing, concerts, high school and college graduations, trade shows, and performances by stars such as Judy Garland, Kenny Rogers and Janis Joplin.
Seggos, as has Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, called upon the federal government to do more to help speed the vaccination program.
“We need the federal government to step up. We’ve needed that since day one, since March, and we have not gotten what we needed out of the federal government. We need the expansion of the vaccine effort to track what we are doing in terms of developing capacity,” Seggos said.
“We have been expanding the population of those who are eligible for the vaccine based on federal guidance. We are increasing distribution points, but we are going to be needing more vaccines. We get 300,000 vaccines in New York per week. At this rate, for 7,000,000 New Yorkers, it is going to take us six months to vaccinate everybody and that’s just for the current pool of eligibility.”
Seggos said that the process to receive a vaccination at a state site is fairly simple once an individual has booked an appointment through the state health department’s special website, covid19vaccine.health.ny.gov.
“You show up at the right time. You get screened. You get your shot. The medical professionals then observe you after the shot for 15 or 30 minutes depending on your condition and at that time you’re signing up for your second dose. Then, you’re free to go and we’ll see you back in a couple of weeks for your second dose,” Seggos said.
He compared the vaccination rollout with building an airplane while flying it.
“This is an incredible undertaking that none of us have ever experienced. We’ve built great systems. We have thousands of people who are at call centers and behind the scenes trying to make this work,” Seggos said. “We will get people vaccinated.”